Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Joseph Allen Smith, 22 March 1801

From Joseph Allen Smith

Paris March 22d. 1801.


I do not hesitate to trouble you with a letter on a Subject, which I think of importance to the tranquillity & happiness of our Country.

Spain has ceeded Louisiana to France, & an expedition is preparing to take possession of New Orleans, & to plant a Colony in that country. Genl. Collaud, who is to command it, sails in a few days for Philadelphia, & will proceed by land to the Missisippi—The force destined for the execution of this project, consisting, I believe, of three or four frigates, will follow as soon as possible—The intention, at present, is to keep the whole a Secret from the government of the United States.

I have done every thing, which attachment to his Country could suggest to a private individual, to suspend the execution of this enterprise; & have been seconded by General Lafayette, & by Mr. Victor Dupont. The enclosed are copies of a memorial & a note, which I addressed to Joseph Bonaparte—they were received by him this morning. I had been told that he would receive me with pleasure today, but finding, probably, that the execution of the project was resolved upon, he has by a second note, deferred our Interview until his return from the Country. I have since heard, indirectly, in answer to the memorial which I presented, “that it would produce no change in the determination of the government.”

I had, in the mean time, requested of Genl. Lafayette to speak to Citizen Talleyrand on the Subject. The Minister began by observing, that the fears of Americans as to the results of such an expedition, were ill founded, but finding that these Assurances were unsatisfactory, he desired him to declare on his Authority, that the government had no thoughts of carrying it, into execution & this, at the Very moment that I had the most positive information to the Contrary.

I have not only written, but have sent off a Confidential person to apprise Mr King.

The Execution of this project cannot fail to produce consequences extremely disagreeable to those who are desirous that perfect harmony should exist between France & the United States; but there is this Consolation, that we have every reason to expect from the government of our Country that Energy, Patriotism, & Consistency, which insure Security at Home, & establish national character abroad—

Permit me, Sir, to offer you my Sincere Congratulations on your Election, & to assure you of the perfect respect with which I have the Honor to be

Yr Most Obt Hmbe. St:

Joseph Allen Smith of So. Carol.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 27 Aug. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Memorial, dated Paris, 30 Ventose Year 9 [21 Mch. 1801], stating that an expedition to take possession of Louisiana will bring conflict with the United States, fostering insubordination in the western United States and raising the prospect of a slave revolt in the southern states; Spain’s administration of Louisiana has lessened the Americans’ apprehension, but if threatened by civil war and a situation similar to that of Saint-Domingue they will engage in a prolonged war to assure their independence, even against the country that helped them to gain it; Great Britain will exploit the opportunity to make common cause with the Americans, suppress the armed neutrality and control all seaborne commerce, and mount an expedition to capture New Orleans that Spanish colonists, fearful of losing their slave property, will support; yet it suits the genius and peaceful nature of Napoleon Bonaparte to avert these evils by letting the Americans determine the fate of Louisiana, keeping the province available to France as a source of wood for shipbuilding, provisions for the West Indies, and land for settlement; Smith urging the prudence of suspending plans for an expedition during this time when ratification of the convention between France and the United States is pending and the United States is without a resident minister in France (MS in same; in French, in Smith’s hand, with no signature or addressee; at head of text: “Copy”). (2) Smith to Joseph Bonaparte, 1 Germinal Year 9 [22 Mch. 1801], Hotel d’Orsay, Rue de Varennes, asking him to excuse the liberty that Smith takes seeking an interview, but Smith is certain that Joseph Bonaparte will want to preserve the harmony that he has done so much to restore between France and the United States; Smith, knowing for some days now that Spain has ceded Louisiana to France, understands that the government plans an expedition to take possession and establish a colony; Smith’s disposition usually keeps him apart from political matters, but he hopes to prevent the alienation of the Americans from France; he asks that Joseph Bonaparte read his memorial and, if the request is not too indiscreet, to communicate his views to the first consul; Smith asks only that the project be suspended until the matter can be discussed with people who have knowledge of the situation in America, including Rufus King, William Vans Murray, Lafayette, and Victor du Pont (MS in same; in French, in Smith’s hand and signed by him; at head of text: “Copy”). Enclosed in James C. Mountflorence to TJ, 26 Mch. 1801, from Quay Malaquais No. 1, Paris, the body of which reads in its entirety: “The Packet herewith was particularly recommended to me by Mr. Smith, with a Request that I would beg Mr. Olsen to deliver it personally” (RC in DLC; at foot of text: “His Excellency The President of the United States of America—Washington”; endorsed by TJ as received 27 Aug. and so recorded in SJL); according to SJL this letter was the last correspondence between TJ and Mountflorence; Peder Blicher Olsen was on his way to the United States to serve as resident minister and consul general of Denmark (Emil Marquard, Danske Gesandter og Gesandt-skabspersonale indtil 1914 [Copenhagen, 1952], 459; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:452, 489; 2:206n).

Joseph Allen Smith (1769–1828), a half-brother of William Loughton Smith, traveled in Europe from 1793 to 1807, collecting prints, paintings, and casts of gems, medals, and statuary. After his return to the United States he lived in Philadelphia, where items from his collection became part of the early holdings of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The letter above is the only correspondence to or from Smith that TJ recorded in SJL (E. P. Richardson, “Allen Smith, Collector and Benefactor,” American Art Journal, 1, no. 2 [1969], 5–19; George C. Rogers, Jr., Evolution of a Federalist: William Loughton Smith of Charleston (1758–1812) [Columbia, S.C., 1962], 338–40).

By a secret preliminary treaty signed at San Ildefonso on 1 Oct. 1800 the Spanish crown agreed to cede the vast province of Louisiana back to France. Spain was also to provide the French with six 74-gun warships. In return for these concessions France agreed to create a kingdom of 1,200,000 subjects in northern Italy for King Carlos’s son-in-law, Louis of Parma. The new kingdom of Tuscany—subsequently called Etruria—was recognized by a confirming treaty signed at Aranjuez on 21 Mch. 1801. That treaty contained formal acknowledgment of the cession of Louisiana to France (Parry, Consolidated Treaty Series, description begins Clive Parry, ed., The Consolidated Treaty Series, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1969–81, 231 vols. description ends 55:375–8; 56:45–9; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends 944).

Genl. Collaud: like Smith, William Constable, a New York merchant and land speculator who wrote to Alexander Hamilton from Paris on 23 Mch., spelled the general’s name “Collaud.” Although there was a French general named Colaud, Smith and Constable evidently meant Victor Collot, who was the person named by Rufus King in London and by Robert R. Livingston when he corresponded with King from Paris in December 1801. A few years previously Collot had gathered military intelligence and topographical information in the Mississippi Valley, apparently in anticipation of a return of Louisiana to French control and the potential joining of the western United States to that province. Whether Collot, on the basis of that experience, was a candidate for command of an expedition to take possession of Louisiana is uncertain. Constable thought that Collot, a former governor of the island of Guadeloupe, was to be the governor of Louisiana, which Livingston also understood to have been the original intention. But King heard only that Collot might lead “a considerable number of disaffected and exiled Englishmen, Scotchmen and Irishmen” to the United States. King thought that any link between that rumor and the retrocession of Louisiana to France was “mere conjecture.” Collot had been away from France from 1792 to 1800, and according to Livingston he was “out of favor” in Paris by late 1801. When France did assemble an expedition during 1802, Collot was not named as the capitaine général of Louisiana to lead it (Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends 25:372–3; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:55–6, 228–9; Michaël Garnier, Bonaparte et la Louisiane [Paris, 1992], 48; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends 200–1, 435–6, 1092, 1717; Vol. 30:300, 361–2n; Vol. 31:467–9).

To apprise Mr King: on 29 Mch. King wrote to the secretary of state to confirm “the rumours of the day” about the Louisiana cession. Without naming his source, King also reported the rumor about Collot (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:55–6).

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